European Theories of the Drama: An Anthology of Dramatic Theory and Criticism from Aristotle to the Present Day

By Barrett H. Clark | Go to book overview

GERMAN DRAMATIC CRITICISM FROM THE BEGINNINGS
TO LESSING

Owing to a variety of causes--the lack of political unity, among others--Germany was late in developing her literature, and what dramatic criticism there is before Lessing is more or less of the old style--Latin commentaries, statement and re-statement of the Rules, and grammatical disquisitions. Individual figures stand out, however--like Opitz, Gottsched, and Johann Elias Schlegel--but none of these contributed theories of epoch-making importance.

German dramatic criticism begins with German general criticism, somewhere toward the middle of the sixteenth century. It is doubtful just who was the beginner, though Sturm, Fabricius, and Pontanus all have just claims, while Schosser's pedantic Disputationes de Tragœdia antedated them all ( 1559). Johann Sturm was a scholar of no mean attainments, and his commentaries, letters, and the work on rhetoric, exercised some influence, especially on his pupil Johann Lobart, who edited a commentary of Horace's Ars Poetiea in 1576. Georgius Fabricius, the first part of whose De Re Poetica appeared in 1565 (an enlarged edition was published in 1571), shows signs of his acquaintance with Scaliger. Jacobus Pontanus [Spanmüller] wrote an Institutiones Poeticae, a pedantic and unoriginal treatise which appeared in 1594.1 But the first of the truly modern and vernacular tractates was Martin Opitz' Buch von der Deutscher Poeterei ( 1624). This work, with all its shortcomings, was the signal for a good deal of more or less original work in Germany, though between its appearance and that of Gottsched's Versuch in 1730 there was a large amount of the usual Latin scholarship and pedantic compilation. With Andreas Gryphius, the most important dramatist of the century, the English influence, which was beginning to be felt even in the days of Opitz, became more widespread, and in his plays, lectures, and prefaces he combatted the old rules of drama. Erdmann Neumeister followed Gryphius in his disregard of convention, while Philip yon Zesen (in his De Poetica, 1656) and Augustine Buchner, in his Kurzer Wegweiser sur Deutseh Tichtkunst ( 1663), continued the pedantic tradition. Johann Christoph Gottsched exerted considerable influence over his contemporaries and successors. He was during a great part of the first half of the eighteenth century a literary dictator, and his Versuch einer kritischen Dichtkunst ( 1730) opened the eyes of Germany to the possibility of developing her own literature. The spirit of the work was neo-classical, and Gottsched was a staunch admirer of the French critics. His quarrels with Bodmer and Breitinger, the Swiss critics, over Milton and other subjects, resulted in ignominious defeat. Johann Jakob Bodmer is the author of the famous Diskurse der Mahler ( 1721), and J. J. Breitinger of the Kritisehe Dichtkunst ( 1740). Gottsched's ideas were soon rejected by the public, but he had a number of followers, chiefly among the small group of writers who founded the Bremer Beiträge in 1745. Among these were Gellert, Klopstock, and Johann Elias Schlegel. Schlegel wrote a number of interesting essays on the drama, among the best of which is the Gedanken zur Aufnahme des dänischen Theaters. He was likewise a Shakespearian enthusiast, and has been called the founder of Shakespeare study in his country. Moses Mendelssohn's Briefe are concerned, among

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1
Some critics include two great Dutch writers--Heinsius and Voss--with the Early Germans. Daniel Heinsius published his De Tragœdiœ Constitutione in 1611. and Gerard Voss his Commentariorum Rhetoricorum sive Oratoriarum Institutionum Libri Sex in 1609, though the enlarged edition of 1643 contains much more on the drama.

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